Georges Simenon, 86, one of the most prolific and widely read authors of this century who was best known as the creator of the fictional Paris police inspector, Jules Maigret, died Sept. 4 at his home in Lausanne, Switzerland. The cause of death was not reported. In a writing career that spanned six decades, Mr. Simenon produced 220 novels, plus another 200 novels written under pseudonyms early in his career. He also wrote autobiographical books, including a bestselling "Letter to My Mother" -- published in 1976 shortly after her death at the age of 91 -- and more than 1,000 short stories. Eighty of his novels were Maigret mysteries, featuring the pipe-smoking, contemplative detective who rarely carried a gun, threw a punch or became involved in a chase. Maigret always got his man, but his methods, beginning with his first appearance in 1929 in "The Strange Case of Peter the Lett," represented a departure from the investigative techniques of other fictional crime fighters. He relied on intuition, not scientific methods, and he was extraordinarily patient. He sometimes spent days watching and waiting for his man, trying to understand the ambiance in which the crime was committed and the mind and character of both the victim and the criminal. Only when he was able to see what had happened through their eyes and to comprehend the reasons for the crime did Maigret move in and arrest his suspect. In many of Mr. Simenon's novels, Maigret was the highest-ranking police official in France, chief superintendent in charge of the homicide division of the police judiciaire, and as such he was widely photographed and quoted in the Paris press. In his personal life, he was modest and a man of ordinary tastes and habits. He did not know how to drive a car, but his wife did. She sometimes drove him to the country for a quiet weekend. Maigret always called his wife "Madame Maigret." She called him simply "Maigret." Although the Maigret mysteries were easily the most popular of Mr. Simenon's writing, his "non-Maigrets," as he called them, may have done more to establish his reputation as a serious novelist. Those stories, many of which had a nightmarish quality about them, tended to focus on the psychology of characters or families under extreme stress, and their outcomes were usually tragic. As a writer, Mr. Simenon was known as a master craftsman with a descriptive style that was crisp and effective. He had a sharp insight into human nature and an ability to delineate characters with a short paragraph or phrase. His writing was unpretentious, and it avoided gimmicks and cliche's. Andre Gide, the late French Nobel laureate, once called him "the most novelistic of novelists in French literature today." As a young man, Mr. Simenon had written novels in as short a period as 25 hours, though as he grew older he took an average of eight days. Their length was usually 160 to 220 pages. His procedure was first to pick a name for his characters, with the assistance of a stack of international telephone books he kept handy. Next he prepared a dossier for each character, then placed them in a situation and let his storytelling intuition run free. When he worked he hung a "Do Not Disturb" sign on his door and often wrote round-the-clock. Once finished, Mr. Simenon put his manuscript away for a few days, then took it out, revised it briefly and sent it to his editor. He never read any of his books once they had been published. He said he considered the process of writing a form of "forced labor," but until he stopped writing novels in the early 1970s, he always felt a compulsion to return to the process once he had completed a book. Mr. Simenon's writings were translated into 55 languages, including Chinese, Armenian and Yiddish. He was a favorite of readers in the Soviet Union, where some of his novels had initial editions of 500,000 copies. The Soviet news agency Tass praised Mr. Simenon in a brief obituary as a "master detective story writer." According to a 1973 United Nations survey, sales of his books totaled 500 million copies worldwide. They were the basis for 52 movies and 300 television films. Inspector Maigret has been played by 22 actors, including Charles Laughton, Jean Gabin and Heinz Ruehmann. Born in Liege, Belgium, Mr. Simenon quit school at the age of 16 to work as a baker's apprentice. Later he was a bookstore clerk, then a newspaper reporter before moving to Paris in 1922, when he began churning out pulp fiction of every salable variety under several pseudonyms. He made good money at that, but he had higher literary ambitions and sought the advice of Colette, the renowned novelist who was editor of Le Matin. She told him to stop trying to be literary, and Mr. Simenon would later say it was the best piece of writing advice he ever got. His fortunes flourished as he published hundreds of books and stories over the next few years, and he was able to afford a chauffeur and a yacht, from which he wrote his first Maigret mystery in 1929. During the 1930s, he continued to write Maigret stories and other novels. During World War II, he was in Vichy-governed France, where he helped organize aid for refugees. After the war, Mr. Simenon moved to the United States, where he lived in California, New York, Connecticut and Arizona. Some of the best novels of his career were written in this period. They included "Acts of Passion," about a physician who strangles his mistress, and "The Snow Was Black," in which a corrupt and evil young man attracts a virginal young woman with the aim of corrupting her. He returned to Europe in the 1950s and wrote such critically well-received books as "The Bells of Bicetre," a story of a newspaper publisher, tired of his job and unhappy in his marriage, who comes to terms with life after a brush with a near-fatal disease, and "The Cat," a story of an elderly couple who communicate only in writing. When the husband suspects his wife has killed his cat, he kills her parrot. Mr. Simenon's personal life was as chaotic as those of many of the characters of his novels. He said in interviews in 1977 that he had sex with 10,000 women during his lifetime, sometimes as many as three women a day. In 1950 he divorced his wife of 27 years, Regine Renchon. There was a son, Marc, from that marriage. Later that year he married Denise Quimet, his secretary and mistress who was already pregnant with their first child. That marriage ended in a bitter estrangement, and Mr. Simenon began a long-standing relationship with his wife's former chambermaid, Teresa. His second marriage had produced three children, Jean, Pierre and Marie-Jo, Mr. Simenon's only daughter. Marie-Jo shot and killed herself in her Paris apartment at the age of 25 in 1978. In 1984 Mr. Simenon wrote "Intimate Memoirs," an account of the family relationships and turmoil that preceded his daughter's suicide.